Give Me The Fish (GMTF): Big toe pain when squatting is often caused by the shoes you’re wearing. Feet can change over time and just because your shoes fit when you bought them, doesn’t mean they fit now. This is especially true if you are a runner. And, when you do buy new shoes, remember that toes splay more than you think underload, so you may want to look into buying a pair with a bigger toe box.
Big Toe Pain When Squatting
Here I am with a soul-crushing weight on my back, focusing on pushing my knees out as I drop into the hole between my legs, nipples to the ground, and then all of a sudden pain shoots through my toe. It’s almost like there’s a stone in my shoe right on the outside ball of the pad.
And, a sharp stone your shoe with a few hundred pounds on your back is not very comfortable.
I center my mind and refocus at the task at hand and shoot the weight back up. Knock out the last few reps doing everything I can not to feel the pain that’s radiating in my right toe.
It’s funny because this seems insignificant in the scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a pain in the a**.
And then I proceeded to check in between each set for this invisible rock.
No matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out what was causing this pain and where it was coming from.
What Is Causing This Big Toe Pain When Squatting?
I’d never had this pain before and the only recent switch had been my lifting shoes.
I had taken my normal break from wearing them and had just transitioned them back into my training as I went into the strength building phase of my training cycle.
So, I had a hunch that it was the shoes. But, I’ve had these shoes for years and I’ve never had a problem.
Looking at the inside, they didn’t look worn out, the leather was not stretched, and while a few of the threads were starting to fray, it was nothing that would have weakened the integrity of the shoe.
Looking at my feet, while never a pretty sight as my wife will attest to from years of abusing them climbing, hiking, running, and wearing boots for an excessive amount of time, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
No new calluses, no blisters forming, nothing to indicate pain in that spot.
But despite all this, my big toe pain when squatting was a big pain in the a**.
Find Out What Is Causing The Pain
While I can obviously, squat with the big toe pain when squatting, I generally find it better to remove most distractions when moving heavyweights.
And, pain is normally an indicator of something not great going on.
In addition, feet are complex and are used quite a bit. So. Pushing through is not an option long term. Ask anybody that spends a lot of time on their feet, especially in austere environments, or long races and they’ll tell you, feet problems will make or break you.
So, the obvious first step was to cut out the lifting shoes.
And voila, luck of the draw and that rare occasion of actually getting something right the first time, the pain went away.
But, It didn’t really solve the problem, because I still want to wear lifting shoes.
YouTube and Google searching did not do me any good and I didn’t exactly want to spend another $100 on new lifting shoes just for trial and error.
So, I started asking friends for pairs to tryout.
Every pair I tried seemed to have the same problem.
All of them were convinced, that I was probably putting too much weight on my big toe.
While this could have been the case, you can normally tell if you are putting too much weight on the big toe, by either bar travel or heel movement. Neither of which seems to be the problem, especially with my habit of filming almost every squat session I do.
Feet Can Change Overtime
Days later, I’m sitting drinking cup of coffee, thinking about random non-related things and I remember that I had to go up a shoe size a few months prior.
My feet had flattened a little more, and my toes had started to spread out. This was also around the time when I first started hitting over 30-mile weeks in my running.
Which at that point in time was a little weird to me, because I had been wearing minimalist and barefoot shoes for five years or so at this point.
Which, so the theory goes, that my feet would spread out to a more natural shape (spoiler alert, it didn’t happen).
At least until I upped my mileage.
My old minimalist shoes had started feeling increasingly constrictive and they started to blow out the side of the toe box. Prompting a switch to another shoe.
But, remembering back on that, I realized, duh, my feet changed.
Check The Width Of Your Toe Box
When I was looking for what was causing the big toe pain when squatting, I had only borrowed and asked around pairs that were the same size, and just like with the minimalist shoes it wasn’t the length of my foot that changed, it was the width.
None of my buddies had a wider shoe so I had never discovered the problem.
So, probably to the bane of most serious powerlifters, and using a trick I learned in the Marine Corps with boots, I stretched my shoes out.
If you get a pair of leather shoes or boots soaking wet and then stretching them out and let them dry while stretched, they will allow you to not only shape the boot or shoe but will keep them in that new form after dried.
So into the bathtub they went with me shoving a few perfectly sized rocks into where I wanted them and then shoving sock after sock into my shoe until the whole thing was completely packed in a soaking wet mess.
Out they come, and then I let them sit for a day or two.
So of course, the test was squatting.
Sweet mother of Jesus, no pain.
So, if you’re having big toe pain while squatting check your toe box.
You can check this by taking the opposite lifting shoe and holding it up against your foot sole to sole and seeing where your toes splay out. When you do this, you actually have to add an extra half millimeter or so between the outside edge. Partly because you have to account for the leather of the shoe, but also because your toes are going to naturally splay out when they’re load-bearing.
If you can, try to test out the shoes with weight on your back before buying, even if that means looking like a weirdo and firemen carrying a buddy and squatting at the store.
Otherwise, it’s hard to tell how much your toes actually splay.
So, if you are having big toe pain while squatting, check out the toe box, and if you are buying a pair of squatting shoes it might be worthwhile to look into one that has a wider toe box to begin with. This is especially important for those out there that run as well as lift.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
Toes and feet are extremely tough and take a lot of abuse, but they are also extremely complex. With each foot having 26 separate bones in each, there are a lot of places for things to go wrong.
They are also a single point of failure. When your feet go, say goodbye to whatever you are trying to do, whether that’s ultramarathons, backpacking, or a long day on the job.
So, take care of them. Help them complete their complex, delicate, and hard job of carrying lots of weight and dealing with all of the abusive dumb races and adventures we put them through.
So if you’re having big toe pain when squatting, don’t just deal with it, figure out what the problem is, and if you need a place to look, check out the toe box, that might just be your problem.